Sholto Hesketh looks at how the retail sector could benefit from investing in its back office software for increased business efficiency and customer satisfaction.
With eleven medium-to-large retail businesses already having failed in just the first two months of 2018, including major brands, Toys R Us and Maplin, affecting some 6,300 employees, predictions from the Centre for Retail Research that 164 major or medium-sized retail companies will fall into administration in 2018 doesn’t seem that far beyond the realms of possibility. Rising inflation combined with wage stagnation has led to an inevitable lack of consumer spending, meaning that for UK retail businesses, it’s harder than ever to turn a profit.
Faced with a unique and complex set of challenges, including managing a multi-faceted supply chain and keeping tight control over often unwieldy inventories, all while maximising sales, improving customer loyalty and keeping pace with changing consumer tastes, the retail sector already has a lot to contend with before you factor in this sluggish customer spending. In an effort to draw in new customers, many retailers have invested heavily in the consumer-facing side of the business, be it a cutting-edge retail outlet or a slick, intuitive online store. However, for many of these businesses, a failure to invest in their back-end systems and infrastructure has meant that what often lie behind glossy, visually appealing customer-facing shop windows (be they online or on the high street) are shoddy, disconnected back office processes that are simply unable to match customer expectations. Not to mention the costly inefficiencies that invariably occur if your back office is struggling to keep pace with your customers’ demands.
Those retailers who have recognised this damaging disconnect are investing in retail software and systems, specifically designed to meet the requirements of the sector. In particular, the right systems have the ability to unite disparate systems, unifying front and back office processes and functions, while seamlessly integrating with a whole host of other solutions, including POS systems, third party logistics software, e-commerce platforms, barcode scanning technology and other external databases. By fully integrating all processes and procedures across the supply chain, there’s no longer any disconnect between different areas of the business, enabling smoother, faster operations and joined-up decision-making based on accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information.
This new connected way of working ensures front-to-back and back-to-front visibility over the entire business too. By facilitating a 360° view of the organisation, streamlining such diverse functions as CRM, finance and inventory management into a single system, with advanced analytics built-in, what results is a collaborative, centralised IT solution which enables optimum levels of business agility, the holy grail for retail businesses if they’re to have any hope of better responding to changing trends and market conditions. This real time, holistic view of the business allows for timely, informed decisions based on accurate business insight instead of hastily bolted-together spreadsheet reports, not only improving control of the entire business but improving the business’s ability to quickly and accurately alter price points for example, based on factual, up-to-date business information, such as customer purchasing preferences, and financial performance. With the ability to put in place automated alerts as well, it’s no longer a case of searching for the right information either, with the best retail software solutions delivering the right information direct to your desktop or mobile device. The right solution provides unprecedented levels of business insight, putting raw data into context for the good of the business.
When it comes to order fulfilment, the right solution can make all the difference. Again, by bringing together seemingly disparate business functions, the right retail software solution can deliver major efficiency savings. Automated stock and purchasing replenishment functionalities ensure the right products are available in the right numbers at the right time, dramatically reducing stock outs while reducing inventory costs significantly. Fully integrated advanced inventory management provides new depths of visibility and control over stock levels, with the added benefit of accurate demand planning helping to better anticipate customer demand. This ability to maintain, store and utilise vast amounts of product data, across multiple warehouses and multiple locations, integrating seamlessly with purchasing, finance and stock control, minimises inventory levels for increased business and cost efficiency, paving the way for increased levels of customer satisfaction as well as an upturn in profitability.
A fully integrated retail system not only manages data and information from across the business but has the ability to turn data into real value-add information. With extensive reporting and analysis capabilities as standard, the best solutions readily identify process improvements across the organisation, helping to seek new business opportunities and identifying customer trends quickly and effectively. The application of rigorous analytics across the business is a real bonus for retail businesses in particular, especially when the resulting information is delivered in an accessible format to the right people, providing a solid platform from which to make timely, effective decisions.
All these benefits don’t have to involve huge investments and changes to back office infrastructures, with the best software providers recognising that retail software solutions need to be intuitive, accessible and as easy as possible to slot into a business’s existing set-up. For ultimate flexibility and agility, many leading retail software solutions can be delivered in the cloud, with the added benefit of a suite of mobile apps for ultimate responsiveness and 24/7 working, wherever you are in the world. Not only does this enable your solution to grow alongside your business, but the enhanced security and compliance that cloud solutions bring gives you two less things to worry about, leaving you to focus on real value-add activities, with flexible deployment services often available to suit your particular business needs as well.
For many retail businesses, it’s their back office processes that are holding them back. They may have the best customer offering in the world but if the infrastructure isn’t in place to support the daily workings of the business, then long-term, sustained success just isn’t on the cards. With the right systems in place, designed to meet the specific needs of the industry, retail businesses put themselves in a strong position to weather the seemingly incessant storms faced by the sector, hopefully heading towards some sunlight on the somewhat distant horizon.
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